vendredi 29 mai 2015

Qualculating overflows.

Prof. Bourbaki, Cycle of framing & overflowing, 2015 (derived from Callon, 2002)
However big they may be, data never fully cover the world they refer to. Reality will always overflow (or escape) the web of references that are supposed to account for it (Latour, 1999a). Here we reach a second taboo of scientific overflow management. As we already saw with Fellman and Popp, the first taboo is the impossibility of embracing everything. The second taboo is the symmetric counterpart of the first: if analysts are unable to welcome all data and are yet obliged to pretend that they do (first taboo), the data they have are often not enough to support the results fully, yet they must present them as such. Historians cannot bu present their work in terms of official science, as a body of knowledge stemming from rigorous methods and objective data, for instance. Yet they know perfectly well that it is possible to reach that objective only by implementing an amazing practice of literary creation. Historians' accounts largely consist of filling the overflowing gaps of missing data with words, linking the available facts with appropriate guesses, writing a coherent and continuous story from erratic and discrete traces, discovering the flow of past events through narrative and creative inventions (second taboo). In other words and as far as overflow management is concerned, the scientific and the literary, the real and the imaginary, the calculative and the qualitative go hand in hand. One cannot account for the flood of things without appropriate 'qualculation' procedures: procedures which combine numbers and words, or replace statistical figures with rhetorical ones when the former are missing (Cochoy, 2008). Several contributions to this book brilliantly illustrate the pervasiveness of this scheme: the talent of smart accountants is not limited to computing skills, but extends to and rests upon a virtuous ability to embed numbers with proper notions and stories of mergers, tariff reserves and budget expenditures (Czarniawska, Donatella and Solli); even the traders of financial markets that everyone acknowledges as the wizards of pure economic calculation are also frenetic storytellers. As Tarim demonstrates, markets professionals do not calculate; they 'formulate' the economy. Formulation is really the right word (Callon, 2013); it brings together the formulas (the famous Black and Scholes equation performed on derivative markets; MacKenzie and Millo, 2003), the forms (in which numbers are recorded) and the narrative 'formulations', without which the formulas could have no performative effects. Last but not least, the urban planners of Tapiola frame and reinvent city overflows at the same time, showing us how the cold analytics of modern technocracy can be combined with poetic dreams of pure Utopia (Pantzar).

Franck Cochoy, Afterword: overflows as boundary events between organizations and markets in Barbara Czarniawska & Orvar Löfgren (eds.), Coping with Excess, How Organizations, Communities and Individuals Manage Overflows, Edward Elgar, 2013, p.275-276.

vendredi 22 mai 2015

Public Works.

Janet Abbate, Arpanet in 1971, 1999.

Public works historians Stanley K. Schultz and Clay McShane offer a useful departure point and baseline overview of public works projects and administration in America: "Twentieth-century economic and political administration emphasized several characteristics, including centralized permanent bureaucracy staffed by skilled experts, and a commitment to long-range, comprehensive planning". To this we might add that projects sponsored by such administrations were highly technical, specialized by discipline, economically driven, and discretely bounded. Yet this description is incomplete. In truth, the development of public works projects in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was much more diversified and finely grained. Public works evolved from publicly initiated social reforms to multidimensional mega-projects to dispersed, networked initiatives that took on new technical as well as organizational challenges such as research and development, fundraising, and mitigation. Contemporary public works initiatives are caught up in a web of social, logistical, economic and environmental forces with local and global import. 



A radical departure from public works projects directed by a centralized, hierarchical authority, the ARPANET - the predecessor of the current internet - established a new, networked model for project development. In doing so, it manifested a broader series of mid-to-late-twentieth-century trends in global economic and political arenas toward decentralization and privatization. For instance, the developers of the ARPANET took on new roles and were responsible for project organization and management, research and development, design and engineering, and implementation and maintenance. Project management itself was dispersed and diversified; the ARPANET was created by an evolving coalition of networked entities - some govermental (such as ARPA / Advanced Physical Laboratory), others academic/institutional (such as MIT, UCLE, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Dartmouth), and still others private/corporate (Bolt Beranek and Newman, Honeywell, and IBM). Hierarchical, single-entity organizations had given way to dispersed matrices of public, private, corporate, institutional, and academic entities; multiple voices, both "official" and traditionally underrepresented, were heard and integrated. Even the individuals at work on the network moved from one organization to another, reflecting in organizational structure and personal mobility the new methodologies and mechanics of project development and information exchange.


Recent and historic advances in public works projects, urbanism, housing, and even ecology point to a new set of professional practices characterized by an emphasis on operational and performance-driven aspects of landscape process and urbanisation, and with a focus on logistics and mechanisms. Importantly, though, this interest in the mechanics and mechanisms of project development necessarily extend beyond physical issues to include project conceptualization, funding, implementation, and oversight of maintenance practices. It includes birth processes and the administrative mechanisms of project conception and development, strategies that catalyse growth and succession, and adaptive approaches to long-term implementation and maintenance regimes. Moving forward, at least four trends, as follows. 

1. Blurring of Distinctions Between Traditional Fields of Practice 

No longer do traditional separations between disciplines hold. The new public works are marked by the integration of functional, social-cultural, ecological, economic, and political agendas. Limited resources demand that interventions satisfy multiple goals, bringing about hybridized solutions, with coordinated urbanistic, infrastructural, ecological, architectural, landscape, economic, artistic, and political agendas. Architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, ecology, art, social programs, environmental remediation, and more are embedded one within the other, resulting in new project typologies irreducible to traditional, singular designations. 

2. Appropriation of Infrastructural Strategies and Ecological Tactics for New Civic Programs 

While conceived as rational, absolute, and utilitarian, infrastructure has the capacity to be appropriated and transformed toward social, cultural, ecological, and artistic ends. Architectural accretions, layerings of program and use, existing infrastructures made useful – herein lies the basis for a new civic realm, once created by appendage and insertion. Conversely, architecture and landscape can appropriate the utility and serviceability of infrastructure. One could imagine landscape/architectural/urbanistic projects conceived as functional infrastructures, ecological machines that process and perform, public spaces that literally “work”. One might also imagine the creation of fertile testing grounds that structure or initiate an unfolding of hydrological, ecological, social-cultural and urbanistic processes and adaptations – earthen infrastructures available for appropriation and transformation and whose form is valued for its performative rather than sculptural characteristics. 

3. Activation of Multiple, Overlapping Networks and Dynamic Coalitions of Constituencies 

Martin Melosi, Stephen Graham, Sanford Kwinter, and other have recognized the decentralised or splintered characteristics of contemporary service provision and decision-making. Local municipalities are coping with limited resources that must fulfil an expanding set of public needs and constituencies; they are also subject to political and administrative changes that often reshuffle economic priorities. Fortunately, funding and organizational resources are not solely available to centralize municipalities; often community groups, arts organizations, research centres, and others have access to as many funding sources, and therefore wield as much power over the definition and playing out of public projects. They also often have political influence. Thus, public works practices must redefine and expand potential constituencies, stakeholders, and clients in the course of the project. Critical is the early establishment of broad networks of potential stakeholders, different coalitions of which can be activated for various stages of project implementation. In such a dynamic matrix of temporary partnerships, strategic coalitions emerge and fade – or at least suspend work – as projects evolve and adapt over local circumstances. 

4. Catalytic and Responsive Operations 

The key lay in the capacity for installations and operations to catalyse transformations via social, economic, ecological, or hydrologic processes. Understanding that long-term implementation may depend on short-term initiatives to change public perceptions and to generate political will, public works practices set out preliminary smaller-scale events and installations that require few resources. Yet implementation scenarios must also be responsive, such that they accommodate potential changes and diverge from step-by-step implementation formula. Thus implementation strategies are represented more akin to networks and matrices that allow for both defined and undefined inputs and open-ended futures. Projects with duration of ten or twenty years or more must acknowledge the significant potential impact of changing markets and political agendas, in particular, and any number of forces, in general, that are simply beyond the control of the consultant or clients at the time of project initiation. Landscape urbanism – as a set of ideas and frameworks – lays new ground for design and urbanistic practices: performance-based, research-oriented, logistics-focused, networked. Here, the design practitioner is re-cast as urbanistic system-builder, whose interests now encompass the research, framing, design, and implementation of expansive new public works and civic infrastructures. The four trends outlined above, and the interests and initiatives put forward in this volume, collectively offer a provisional yet optimistic framework for practices in landscape urbanism. These emergent conditions are poised to transform design practices and the roles of those working in the public realm. 

Chris Reed, Public Works Practice in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p.273-275 & 281-283. 

Merci à M.J.

vendredi 15 mai 2015

The Drosscape.

AUC, Grand Paris Stimulé, 2009.

Landscape architects in academia give little attention to urbanisation, often dwelling instead on the traditional areas of landscape history – site engineering, construction detailing, and project-based design studio education. But beyond and behind these topics is a reality so huge we tend not to see it at all – what I call the drosscape, or the inevitable “waste landscapes” within urbanised regions that eternally elude the overly controlled parameters, the scripted programming elements that designers are charged with creating and accommodating in their projects. Adaptively reusing this waste landscape figures to be one of the twenty-first century’s great infrastructural design challenges. This essay chronicles this condition and suggests that those with an understanding of both landscape and urbanisation will be best positioned to act on these sites in the future. 


The waste landscape emerges out of two primary processes: first, from rapid horizontal urbanisation (urban “sprawl”), and second, from the leaving behind of land and detritus after economic and production regimes have ended. From its deindustrializing inner core to its sprawling periphery to the transitional landscape in between, the city is the manifestation of industrial processes that naturally produce waste. Designers often paint a black-and-white picture of complex industrial processes. A common term, “post-industrial”, has been used by landscape architects, architects, and planners to describe everything from polluted industrial landscapes to former factory buildings usually found in declining sections of cities. The term itself creates more problems than solutions because it narrowly isolates and objectifies the landscape as the byproduct of very specific processes no longer operating upon a given site (residual pollution aside). This outlook reifies the site as essentially static and defines it in terms of the past rather than as part of ongoing industrial processes that form other parts of the city (such as manufacturing agglomerations on the periphery). I suggest that it would be strategically helpful for understanding the potential of these sites if designers avoid the term “post-industrial” and its value system when discussing them. 

Drosscape is created by the deindustrialisation of older city areas (the city core) and the rapid urbanisation of newer city areas (the periphery), which are both catalysed by the drastic decrease in transportation costs (for both goods and people) over the past century. It is an organic phenomenon heedless of the academic and human boundaries that separate environmental from architectural/planning/design issues, urban from suburban issues, and nostalgic definitions of community from actual organisations of people, workplaces, and social structures. I argue that planned and unplanned horizontal conditions around vertical urban centres are intrinsically neither bad nor good, but instead natural results of industrial growth, results that require new conceptualization and considered attention, and that these must be in hand before potential solutions to any problem discovered can be effectively addressed or devised.

Alan Berger, Drosscape in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p.199-201. 

Merci à M.J.

vendredi 8 mai 2015

Nested Scales.

Henri Lefebvre, Diagram of Nested Scales, 1974.
The discipline of landscape urbanism has emerged primarily from within landscape architecture, widening its focus on processes to include those that are cultural and historical as well as natural and ecological. In relation to urban design, which as a discipline has emerged from architecture and planning, part of landscape urbanism’s strength lies in this acknowledgment of temporality. It also has the potential to engage architecture in a way that urban design and landscape architecture do not, by challenging architectural conventions of closure and control, which implicitly disavow knowledge of various incommensurable dimensions of urban reality. In this context, architecture is construed not as an object but as a device that can transform an urban landscape yet at the same time is not in complete control of the relationships between its constitutive elements.


This text will focus primarily on one term, that of space, which exemplifies, in the opposition object/space, architecture’s tendency to disacknowledge that which is around it. The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre challenged the unproblematic conception of space in his well-known 1974 book, The Production of Space, arguing that such production is concealed by two mutually reinforcing illusions. He defines one illusion as that of transparency – the idea that the world can be seen as it really is. This illusion, which allows the workings of power that produce space to remain invisible, goes “hand in hand with a view of space as innocent”. He defines the other as the realistic illusion – the idea that something by seeming natural requires no explanation. This illusion, which is based on the opposition of culture/nature, allows landscape to be used to make undesirable histories.


At one point in his analysis of space, Lefebvre presents a diagram of nested scales, which he developed through the examination of a Japanese spatial order. This diagram supports a formulation of the city as a space of differences through two complementary strategies, which together produce dynamic relationships. Its first innovation is to introduce a transitional scale (M), which functions as a mediator between private (P) and global (G). Its second innovation is that each of these scales is integrated within the other two. The diagram provides a basis for a design approach that can support a dynamic and multidimensional differentiation of space. Its overlay of terms recognizes that all scales are internally differentiated, and that while hierarchies of scale exist, they are not fixed or singular. Acknowledging that unity is neither an a priori nor a necessarily attainable condition of identity helps to frame it in terms of processes of becoming, with the capacity to include multiple and perhaps contradictory traits. 

Linda Pollak, Constructed Ground: Questions of Scale in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p.127-130.

Merci à M.J.

vendredi 1 mai 2015

Interconnected Metropolis.

Michael Najjar, Dow Jones 80_09, 2008-2010.

In a classical sense it is virtually impossible to romance the city as a collective work of art. Rather, the contemporary, globally interconnected metropolis is a rapacious, denatured tangle of infrastructure problems and planning issues increasingly subject to base motivations. And yet, even if we are to instrumentally evolve the city in accord with its environmental limitations and social crises, it would remain merely mechanistic, without art. 

To conflate art and instrumentality, two terms generally thought so distant as to not relate, I am purposefully returning to landscape architecture’s idealism and definition of a holistic enterprise, something that is at best both art and science. Aware that there is much in art and science that landscape architecture will never be, and that landscape architecture seems relatively ineffectual in reshaping the world, this positioning of the discipline seems nonetheless theoretically correct and worthy of aspiration. 

Landscape architecture’s relative impotence in leading any reshaping of the world to date cannot just be blamed on the evil genius of capitalism and the traditional hegemony of engineering and architecture. Landscape architecture’s scope and influence, whilst in all likelihood increasing, is still weakened by its own inability to conceptually and practically synthesize landscape planning and landscape design, terms which stereotypically signify science and art, respectively. In common parlance, planning concerns infrastructure (both mechanical systems and land-use designation) which, while essential to everything else the city comprises, bears a low semantic load in and of itself. On the other hand, design is perceived and practiced as the rarefied production of highly wrought objects or specific sites that bear a high semantic load. For its focus on intentional meaning, design sacrifices the scale and instrumentality of its agency, whereas that which planning gains in scale and efficacy it inversely loses in artful intent. Although this is not always the case, and perhaps too diagrammatic, this axiom of landscape architecture’s bilateral crisis is the crux of the problem. This is hardly a new observation, and therefore this essay (with its tangential subtext of associated montages) doesn’t claim to identify new problems exactly – rather, it explores some new ways of getting at the old. 

These new ways can be gathered under the rubric of landscape urbanism. Although still a fuzzy cluster of rhetorical positioning and largely unsubstantiated by work on the ground, landscape urbanism warrants serious discussion because it alone seems theoretically prepared and practically capable of collapsing the divide between planning and design. This also entails a compression of divisions between architecture and landscape, between fields and objects, between instrumentality and art. Significantly, landscape urbanism is emerging as a cross disciplinary sensibility, not to say a movement which positions landscape as the datum from which to critically negotiate the denatured field conditions of the contemporary metropolis. 


What is meant by landscape cannot be considered unless one works through what can be meant by ecology, and it is perhaps there that we find a new conceptual imaging of landscape, one which landscape urbanist sensibilities apprehend as a hybridization of natural and cultural systems on a globally interconnected scale. Such an apprehension, it will be argued, necessarily interweaves the untenable polarizations of design and planning stereotypes. 

The science of ecology and its popular manifestation as environmentalism has practical and philosophical implications for landscape architecture and society at large. The conceptual shift brought about by ecology (and more generally, the physics and biology of the twentieth century) is that the world is one of interconnection and co-dependency between organisms and environments, between objects and fields. Although translating into a victimized “nature” in the popular imagination, ecology is increasingly synonymous with new and more sophisticated models of universal (dis)order such as chaos and complexity theory, kaleidoscopes through which both romantics and scientists find previously unrecognizable order unfolding over time in spite of entropy. Ecology is profoundly important not only because be progressing science from the measurement of mechanical objects to the mapping of non-linear systems it moves science closer to life, but also because it places cultural systems within the epic narrative of evolution. In this sense ecology is not only a meta-science measuring that which was previously beyond measurement, but also a discourse which implicitly leads to questions of meaning and value, questions of art. 

Much recent thinking on ecology and urbanism is inspired by the creative potential of contemporary scientific metaphors. Terms such as diversification, flows, complexity, instability, indeterminacy, and self-organisation become influential design generators, shaping the way we consider and construct places. Writing on ecology in 1996, James Corner says “similarities between ecology and creative transmutation are indicative of an alternative kind of landscape architecture, one in which calcified conventions of how people live and relate to land, nature, and place are challenged and the multivariate wonders of life are once again released through invention”. He urges landscape architecture to develop a creative relationship with ecology in order to exploit a “potential that might inform more meaningful and imaginative cultural practices than the merely ameliorative, compensatory, aesthetic, or commodity oriented”. Pertinently, he identifies the problem that creativity in landscape architecture has all too frequently been reduced to dimensions of environmental problem solving and aesthetic appearance”. The association of ecology with creativity, and in turn creativity with degrees of instrumentality is long overdue. 

Among other things, the conditions of ecological crisis make that which was invisible radically apparent, and with this vision we see our true nature and transcend our preoccupations with urban morphology and the simplistic traditional aesthetic of objecthood. But this vision is not easy; for example, take a simple object like a house, unpack its constituent parts, and then trace them both back and forward in time – that is, from their sources to their entropic end(lessness). The result, insofar as it is even thinkable, is a complex four-dimensional mapping, and even then it is one which barely represents the true complexity of the materialisations and tangential processes involved. 

If not to “save the world” and simplistically fit culture into nature, landscape architecture is right to ally itself with ecology. Landscape architecture – insofar as it is implicitly concerned with materials and processes subject to obvious change – seems well placed to give form to an ecological aesthetic. Landscape architecture is not frozen music. The axiom of ecology, and something now confirmed by the butterfly effect of chaos theory, is that all things are interconnected. Therefore every act, every design, is significant. Add to this the fact that every surface of the earth is not a given, but rather a landscape manipulated by human agency, then clearly landscape architecture can only blame itself if it does not become more powerful. 

Landscape architecture’s potential power is vested in the grand narrative of reconciling modernity to place; but the contemporary city is no longer bounded, and therefore landscape architecture must track it to the ends of the earth. Landscape urbanism is therefore not just about high-density urban areas and civic spaces, it is about the entire landscape off which the contemporary global metropolis feeds and into which it has ravenously sent its rhizomatic roots, a growth framed in the aerial photo or the satellite image. In the frame of the aerial image, landscape architecture finds its grand narrative of reconciling modernity to place. 

But aerial images are contradictory (Faustian) representations because, while they hold out the prospect of directing that which is below, they are also images that invite hubris. Aerial images lay everything bare, and yet by their reduction of things to a marvellous pattern they smooth out the complexity and contradiction of being in a body; they conceal the real socio-political and ecological relations of the working landscape. 


Emerging from a Koolhaasian sensibility, a new generation of designers are moving away from the dialectics and the romantics of design as a tension between form and function, idea and reality. Whilst to an extent ever-present, such romantic dialectics now seem cumbersome and inappropriate to getting on in a culture of too much data. There, the design process becomes a question of computation, not semiotics, a question of negotiating statistical limits, not hermeneutic intrigues. Such work is being gathered under the rubric of “datascapes”, which Bart Lootsma explains as simply “visual representations of all the measurable forces that may influence the work of the architect or even steer or regulate it”. Such work is part of the oeuvre of landscape urbanists. 

Not unlike landscape architecture’s recourse to site analysis to justify its outcomes, datascapes are thought to have great persuasive, commercial, and bureaucratic force because the subjectivities of the designer can be embedded in seemingly objective data. Whereas more romantic conceptions of the design process see the autonomous designer pained by the collision between ideal form and world, the datascapist does the inverse and begins with the outer limits of a project. They accept that a project is always already a site of negotiation. Deferring a preconceived design outcome, datascaping actively embraces restrictions and regulations. For example, Lootsma tells us that some of the most important threads running through West 8’s landscape design work are “such apparently uninteresting thing such as traffic laws and the civil code – things often seen as annoying obstacles by designers who put their own creativity first”. Lootsma goes on to claim that for a designer, setting aside subjectivity and following the bureaucratic rules of a given place needn’t mean neo-functionalism nor constitute mindless robotics (although there is always that risk), but rather, that the designer “commits a genuinely public act in which everyone can participate and perhaps even subvert”. Exactly how this is so, or where it has been tested and proven, remains unclear. 

Richard Weller, An Art of Instrumentality: Thinking through Landscape Urbanism in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p.71-75 & 80-81.

Merci à M.J.